Every 7 years the Methodist Church gives its ministers a 3 month sabbatical.
The following is a report of how Revd Nicola Vidamour, Superintendent minister from the Newham Circuit, spent hers:
In January I spent two weeks with Muslim friends in Oman. This was a hugely important visit in terms of forging what I am now confident will be a deep and lasting relationship out of something which had felt very fragile. It has also had an effect on my prayer life. Since coming back, I have downloaded an Adhan (Call to Prayer) App onto my mobile phone which goes off five times a day! I have worked out a way of praying the Lord’s Prayer using the same body language as Muslims do.
Using my body more in prayer is something which came out of the Enneagram Course I attended at Emmaus House, Bristol in February. I can highly recommend both the venue and the course itself. I both laughed and cried as I recognised myself in my type! I was helped not only to face my shadow side but to find ways of living with it creatively.
I started the Ignatian Retreat in Daily Life last September and have continued to see my Spiritual Director in Hackney every fortnight throughout my sabbatical. It is amazing how the themes of the retreat have overlapped so much with what I have been experiencing in my daily life! I have learnt ways of discerning (especially when making big decisions and choices) and of loving and being loved which will continue to be a source of strength for me in the future.
I have also spent some time thinking about what it will mean for me to become Superintendent of my current Circuit in September! I have had some really helpful conversations with a number of people about this – including Hans Vaxby (who came to do my job for me in January) and David Deeks (whom I met up with whilst I was in Bristol). I have also read some books about church leadership and can particularly recommend Hit the Ground Kneeling by Stephen Cottrell and In the name of Jesus by Henri Nouwen.
I have also benefitted from a holiday in Cyprus, watching two stunning performances in one day by the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford upon Avon, going to the gym, reading novels, watching films, spending time with my family and friends and attending different churches on Sundays.
I return to work feeling renewed and refreshed and so grateful for what can only be described as pure gift!
I returned to work about a month before Easter – and my initial goal (as it is every year) was to make it to Easter and then take a break and a deep breath before launching into the final quarter of the year. A few days after Easter, I became unwell and ended up spending most of May ill in bed. I was very cross with myself! I thought that I had established a life-giving and sustainable rhythm and balance during and following my sabbatical – but this lengthy period of sick leave took away all my confidence and I felt that I was a failure and not cut out for ministry. The first thing I did when I felt well enough to turn on my computer was to write the liturgy for the service I was planning to have on Aug 31st to “launch” me as Superintendent and celebrate 25 years since I started preaching. This was an incredibly healing and restorative exercise and, once I had done this, I was able to return to work with assurance and joy.
One of the lasting impacts of my sabbatical on my life and my ministry has been praying the Lord’s Prayer four or five times a day using the same body language as Muslims do. I no longer do this in response to the app on my phone (after some embarrassing instances when it went off in appropriate places!) but I have developed my own pattern of daily prayer. Touching my forehead to the ground as I say “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name” has enabled me to re-centre and re-focus on the source and end of all that is at different stages throughout the day. Turning my head to the left and the right at the end of the prayer and saying “Peace be with you” to people I know who live in that direction and for whom I feel called to pray is also having a powerful effect – especially when I have just received a difficult email from someone!
I am still living with glandular fever and still have to be very strict with myself about not getting back into bad habits – such as checking my emails after coming home from an evening meeting or working through the day without taking a significant break. I am still learning - but I know that my sabbatical brought me to a better place and is enabling me to stay there more frequently than I was before!